Fairgrounds: Out at Night takes over Six Flags Great Adventure for its 10th anniversary.
September 04, 2013
Mark Nelson & Melissa Gorga at Fairgrounds: Out at Night in 2012
When Mark Nelson first approached Six Flags Great Adventure about the possibility of producing an event back in 2003, there were no LGBT-only events at theme parks that he was aware of. Nelson had been going to Gay Days in Orlando for years, but while that event included exclusive parties for gays, and Red Shirt Day encouraged participants to identify themselves to the general public at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, in Nelson’s opinion, “we needed to have a night just for us.” And so, ten years ago, Fairgrounds: Out at Night was born.
It took a year of planning to get the inaugural event off the ground, but along with co-founder Gage Kristofer and Philadelphia promoter Chris Wright, Nelson made it happen—and it was a huge success from the very beginning. “It gave [LGBT people] a place to let their guard down and be who they were without fear of confrontation or bullying,” he says.
Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t a few hiccups initially. In the first few years, Nelson and co. dealt with overzealous security—patiently educating them about our community—and incidents like the time someone painted the word “fags” on a large rock and left it for all to see on a prominent grassy knoll.
Ten years later, though, Fairgrounds is still going strong. Nelson credits the event’s success to the purity of the experience. “It’s not fueled by booze and drugs,” he explains. “It is pure adrenaline from the rides, and it’s joyful.”
One of Nelson’s fondest memories took place last year courtesy of a certain special guest housewife of New Jersey. “After Melissa Gorga performed, we decided to go on rides,” he recalls. “She was my partner in crime. None of us had ever been on Kingda Ka so we decided to lose our virginities together. …The words that flew out of her mouth as we took off nearly made me pee myself! That ride is wicked!”
To celebrate the past decade of fun, this year for the first time Fairgrounds takes over Six Flags all day long, with LGBT participants and their families and allies mixing with the general public at the park during the day. But the excitement really ramps up at night, when the park closes its gates to everyone but Fairgrounds participants. In addition to extended hours for thrill rides like Kingda Ka and Nitro, there will be special DJ sets by Eddie Baez, Hector Fonseca and Steve Sidewalk, as well as a special live performance by electro pop artist Bex on the festival’s main stage. Nelson also recommends checking out the park’s new Wild Safari. “It’s a one-and-a-half-hour ride through the animal kingdom,” he says. “Take tons of Instagrams with the lions and tigers and ‘oh mys!’”
Fairgrounds: Out at Night at Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ, September 7 from 10:30am–1am; $48 general admission/$150 VIP. Visit gaysixflags.com for more info.